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Perspectives on the War and Rebuilding an Anti-war Movement


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The Russian invasion of Ukraine a month ago is brutal, immoral and illegal  and  unjustified. Let us as individuals,  and in our organizations,  demand the U.S. government support  a ceasefire, and negotiations with Russia and Ukraine.  We call for immediate withdrawal of all Russian  troops that invaded the Ukraine a month ago and the end of Russian bombing and other attacks. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO are not the good guys, and bear some responsibility for the Russian  invasion. We are not minimizing or justifying the Russian attack by saying this, or in criticizing  the mainstream media and most U.S. politicians for their double standard, their hypocrisy  when  comparing  U.S. and Russian behavior and actions.   

In my comments, I will discuss four perspectives on the war, Russia going to war and NATO, rebuilding an anti-war movement,   and what we should demand, support and oppose of the U.S. government, and parameters of a possible negotiated settlement.

I. Perspectives on the War 

1. All of the problem is Russia. Ukrainian membership in NATO is a smokescreen and not the cause of the war.  The Russian invasion can be explained by Putin’s psychology, and by historical and present Russian expansionism. Russia is authoritarian and the West is democratic. This is the dominant position by the Democratic Party and by many people in the Ukraine. In this position, the US and NATO are the good guys.  To  give any credibility to Russia demands about Ukraine not joining NATO, to criticize NATO and US policy as a cause of the war;  to admit there are strong fascist elements in Ukraine and discrimination, violence against Russian ethnic people and people in the Donbas, or that the people of  Crimea probably prefers to be part of Russia is seen as apologizing for the Russian invasion which it is not. Explaining and contextualizing  Russian behavior is not the same as justifying it. 

2. Sometimes called  the tanky or  campist  position.– In this perspective, there is no criticism of Russian actions, only of NATO and U.S. imperialism The only imperialism to challenge is US imperialism, Main demand  is No  NATO in Ukraine, No Ukraine in NATO. Criticisms of Putin as an authoritarian, macho, militarist and capitalist are either minimized and/or he is seen as having no choice because of encirclement but to go to war. In this scenario, Russian invasion is basically defensive. This position is one of, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Being against U.S. intervention abroad and U.S. militarism doesn’t make the Russian government our friend.   A recent article called this the anti anti-Putin position. It is a small part of the left but wrong. Russia wasn’t attacked or in danger of being attacked, it invaded the Ukraine. 

3. A position I had before the brutal invasion of February 24th was to focus on the U.S. and NATO encirclement while also criticizing but with less focus the massive Russian buildup  of troops on the border, the sending  of military forces into Ukraine in 2014 and the Russian exaggeration of fascism in the Ukrainian  government and society. My point was we live here so our criticism should center where our responsibility was the greatest and where we could have the most effect, the U.S.  I thought Russia may not  invade. However since Russia went to war, taking a position of neutrality  or blaming both sides equally is wrong. It does not consider the suffering of the Ukrainian people and who are the immediate aggressors. This position is understandable  especially in societies that have suffered so much from U.S. imperialism and people here in the U.S. who have spent their lives challenging U.S. global policy from Vietnam to the U.S.  supporting Israel against Palestine and the Saudi and UAE war against Yemen. This anti U.S. imperialist is important with continuing validity  but in the specific case of Ukraine, seeing equal responsibility denies the horror of the Russian invasion. 

4. My position which is close to the DSA position and shared by the members of Economics for Everyone (E4E)–The Russian invasion of Ukraine and their war is totally wrong and we oppose it and support immediate and total Russian withdrawal. We strongly support the anti-war movement in Russia and almost all forms of resistance in Ukraine. We also support No Ukraine in NATO, and No NATO in Ukraine,   and no U.S. military bases there.  That Crimea remain part of Russia is only minor violation if any of self-determination and that Crimea remain part of Russia could be part of a negotiated settlement. 

II. The NATO question-NATO was formed in 1949, originally 12 countries including the U.S. as a military alliance aimed at the Soviet Union. In 1990, James Baker agreed with Soviet leader Gorbachev about no NATO expansion east. Ukraine voted overwhelmingly in 1991 to become an independent nation as was permitted by the Soviet Union. Against the advice of many in the foreign policy establishment such as George Kennan and William Burns current head of the CIA and former ambassador to Russia, who argued it would be seen by Russia as a serious military threat, particularly given Russian  history such as losing 25 million people during WWII to Germany. In 2008, the U.S. and NATO stated their intent for the eventual membership of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. In the 2014 uprising against the corrupt and somewhat pro Russian elected leader, Yanukovich, the U.S. supported the uprising although in my opinion. However, it denies the agency and desires of most of the Ukrainian people in the so-called Revolution of Dignity or the Maidan Revolution to focus on US behavior. Russia did send troops there and they stayed in the Donbas Region in eastern Ukraine,

In 2018, Ukraine’s desire to join NATO was enshrined in their constitution. Russia expressed many times their total opposition to Ukraine joining NATO and the U.S. and NATO ignored this position. Is it a violation of Ukrainian self-determination?  I see NATO as primarily an aggressive military coalition under the control of the U.S. and continuing even for an even less justifiable reasons after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.  The war in Afghanistan was a NATO war. If that is the case, of NATO as an aggressive military alliance, it is not a violation of sovereignty to say Ukraine can’t join. Just like U.S. sovereignty does not give it the right to put military bases all over the world or to attack other countries even if people in the U.S. or the U.S. government support it.

**More importantly and this is central, neither the U.S., NATO, nor Zelensky who was elected overwhelmingly in 2019 were willing to say and put into writing that NATO would not expand into Ukraine which shares a 1400 mile border with Russia. There is a debate whether Russia would have invaded even with this assurance.  But the point is the west and Ukraine were never twilling to accept this reasonable demand. We should have done so. Hence the U.S. bears some responsibility for the war in Ukraine Economist Robert Reich wrote in early February, 2022  that this position was seen as too radical and totally outside the establishment positions. This shows the moral and political bankruptcy of these politics, especially in foreign policy. 

This doesn’t justify the Russian invasion and war nor its brutal tactics but the double standard applied by the US is important to pierce. The U.S. has and continues to bomb hospitals or support those who do or did like the Saudis in Yemen. The U.S.  has used chemical weapons in huge amounts in Vietnam and cluster bombs and depleted uranium in Iraq. The U.S. has waged a low intensity war against Cuba for more than 60 years for its “crime” of being independent of the U.S. This has continued after the Soviet collapse. A double standard. Both are equally wrong, The U.S. government and the Biden administration claims to support democracy and oppose authoritarianism  and occupation in its support of Ukraine. Yes, Ukraine is democratic in a limited way although totally neoliberal and even less regulations on corporations and finance than the U.S. But look at the U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine or for U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and UAE in Yemen and their authoritarian and repressive rule at home.   So the U.S. opposition to Russia is more than it is militaristic or that Putin is authoritarian. It is there not accepting U.S. dominance that is their transgression. Also as Noam Chomsky has consistently pointed out, let us not use one standard to judge U.S. behavior and politics, e.g., that we have the right to intervene in other countries and have military bases all over the world but  Russia and China don’t. 

III. Building an anti-war movement- The U.S. anti-war movement played an important role in getting the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam. I praise Code Pink for their continuing efforts. To effectively challenge U.S. intervention and militarism, let us rebuild a powerful anti-war movement at home, an important task.  Let’s connect this anti-war movement to other social movements such as immigrant and economic justice. A few points.

 1. Educate our communities about U.S. history and foreign policy and intervention, and about Ukraine, Russia, NATO, IMF, World Bank, U.S. military bases around the world, nuclear arms race.  By imperialism I mean political and economic domination of another country to benefit the powerful in the imperialist country. This history and analysis is important because otherwise one cannot understand the systemic and ongoing nature of U.S. foreign policy. I would like to add here that the U.S. and the west are the most powerful and oppressive imperialists but not the only ones.

2. Challenge the U.S. military build up against China. Some right-wing commentators like Tucker Carlson are against U.S. involvement in Ukraine because they argue we should focus on the Chinese threat. We have military bases surrounding China, and a three to four times bigger military budget. Biden has continued the military build up  and threats against China from Trump. I am critical of Chinese policy and oppression at home but  they are not an aggressive military expansionist power. Let us not allow the exaggeration of China’s support of Russian aggression. Like some  other countries, China  abstained but did not veto the UN Security Council  condemnation of Russia. 

3. Let us connect and work in coalition with immigrant, refugee and racial justice movements in the U.S. and globally. Very positive is the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Moldova and beyond and the showing of their humanity and plight. At the same time it demonstrates the racism in the treatment and portrayal of Central Americans, Mexicans, Africans, Afghanis   and those fleeing from the middle east. Let us challenge these racist policies and treatment, the not justifiable differentiation between those fleeing poverty from those fleeing war and organize and demand the good treatment of all immigrants, including the complete end of  Title 42, that Trump and Biden have been  using to keep asylum seekers out of applying for asylum in the U.S. Ukrainian lives have value and should be honored but no more than people in the global South or people of color in the U.S.  

4.Supoport and show solidarity with antiwar protests and movements in Belarus, Ukraine and also Russia. Let us challenge anti Russian prejudice and like Vietnam and Cuba did, separate the U.S. people and government. Let us see the Russian people as possible allies and not forget their humanity and needs. Even with the severe censorship of all news in Russia and increasing draconian repression for protesting there is sizable opposition to the war although not a majority. 

5. Connect our ant-war movement to economic justice at home and globally. Before the shooting war began on February 24th, food prices were rising rapidly, as were gas and many other prices, i.e., inflation. These price increases are accelerating because of war, causing hunger and more poverty. Ukraine and Russia export 1/3 of the world’s wheat. Let us support demands for ending internationally imposed austerity policies and connect more U.S. militarism to economic injustice at home and abroad. 

 6. Connecting the anti war and environmental and climate justice movements. Rather than calling for energy independence,  let us use this moment to support struggles against more pipelines and drilling and for the development of more alternate energy and reducing energy use. Let us work with those advocating for a Green New Deal to incorporate into it, the cutting substantially the defense budget and their intensive use of fossil fuels. 

IV. Finally, what we should demand of U.S govt, which policies should we support  and also what should we try to overturn or oppose?

    A. Demand the U.S. publicly state that NATO should not expand to Ukraine and that it supports Ukrainian neutrality and diplomatic solutions and a negotiated settlement, that the U.S. does not want a continuing war.

    B. That the U.S. continue to oppose creating a No Fly Zone because it increases in major ways a broader war. A nuclear war could be the result.

  C. As already mentioned support for Ukrainian refugees, also Russian and from Belarus and all refugees. Increasing admission into the U.S. and humanitarian aid where they are and aid to low-income countries welcoming them. 

   D. Aid to Ukraine

       1. Economic

           a. Support cancelling of Ukrainian debt.

           b. No strings attached economic aid, maybe through UN., during and after war,

        

      2. Military–I am hesitant but support defensive weapons to Ukraine, not ones that can attack Russia. Ukraine has the right to defend itself although slippery slope. We should strongly oppose the increasing sending of offensive weapons like missiles that can attack Russia and the sending of U.S. troops to bordering countries. These will expand the war.  And of course no U.S. troops to Ukraine or U.S. or NATO bombing.

E. Sanctions

    As I already mentioned it is wrong morally to see the Russian people as our enemy.  Sanctions that seriously increase the economic hardship of Russian working people may even increase support for Putin as they blame the West. The anti-Russian people should strongly be opposed.

On the other hand, sanctions that target the Russian wealthy and the so-called oligarchs, we certainly have even richer oligarchs also, may lead to Russian elites concluding the war is too costly for them and support Russian withdrawal. Examples which I support of sanctions that could  hurt the elite  include: 

   1. Freezing and/or seizing the assets of wealthy Russians abroad unless they are explicitly against the Russian invasion and war.

   2. U.S. and other global transnational corporations closing their businesses in Russia.

    3. Freezing Russian government dollar reserves outside Russia although this will increase inflation in Russia as the value of the Russian currency declines. I have mixed feelings about it. It will decrease tourism by well off Russians which may reduce their support for the war. 

   4. Similarly the boycotting of Russian oil, gas and coal is complicated. By reducing Russia’s ability to import goods of all kinds, its negative effect is not just on the Russian government and those involved in fossil fuel exports but also the Russian people. Why?  Imported necessities become less available and more expensive.  One way to limit hardships for the Russian working class is to permit imports of necessities into Russia but to ban exports of luxury goods and of capital goods to Russia. This will incentivize imports of necessities.

    

V.  Negotiated settlement.

    A. Ukraine needs to be involved in a central way. 

    B. Negotiated settlement and diplomatic solution, which includes cease-fire and Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. 

   C. Further elaboration of 2015 Minsk 2 agreement, including again  the Organization of Security and Cooperation  in Europe, which is broader than NATO, and Russia and Ukraine in the negotiations. Also the U.S. and  maybe China. Updating this agreement which wasn’t followed. 

     1. Ukraine as neutral and will not join NATO. No foreign military bases. 

     2. Total withdrawal of all Russian forces, including Donbas Region, also U.S. military “advisers” and special forces, also mercenaries.

     3. The territorial integrity of Ukraine with  the Donbas region as an  autonomous part of the Ukraine, a federal system.

   D. Maybe a fair referendum on Crimea whether residents prefer to be part of Russia. It didn’t become part of the Ukraine until 1954.

    E. Guaranteeing Ukraine will not be invaded in exchange for its neutrality. Note; Joining the EU does not violate neutrality. This could happen by the UN or the UN Security Council guaranteeing Ukrainian sovereignty and  be part of a negotiated settlement.

 

   F.  Economic aid, no strings attached, primarily to Ukraine. Cancelling Ukrainian international debt.

   G. Ending all sanctions against Russia and its residents, including against Putin. If he is replaced, it has to be done by the Russian people not the CIA. Talks of replacing Putin by the U.S. will further Russian and his resistance to ending the war.

Even one month into the war, there is the possibility of a negotiated settlement that is somewhat fair and just.  I know many of us feel powerless but let us do what we can.

 Thank You, Peter

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